- Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens
- Other close family members of U.S.citizens
- Spouses and unmarried sons and daughters of permanent residents
Immediate relative of U.S. citizens are not subject to any numerical limitations in terms of the number of available visas. Immediate relatives include: spouses of U.S. citizens, children of U.S. citizens (provided they are unmarried and under the age of 21), and parents of U.S. citizens (provided the citizen is 21 or older).
With regard to all other family – based groups, only a limited number of immigrant visas are available within the annual cap for each foreign state and within each preference category. The preference categories are as follows:
- First: Unmarried sons and daughters (21 and over) of U.S. citizens
- Second: Spouses and children of permanent residents, and unmarried sons and daughters (21 and over) of permanent residents
- Third: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens
- Fourth: Brothers and sisters of adult U.S.citizens
Depending on the country of origin, the backlogs, and therefore waiting times, in these categories can be lengthy. The exact length of the delay can be found in the Department of State Visa Bulletin.
Spouses of U.S. citizens are considered immediate relatives; a person who marries a U.S. citizen can qualify for immigration in this category. The marriage cannot be a “sham,” or one entered into for immigration reasons. The marriage must be legally entered into. This means that both parties were free to marry because all prior divorces were legal. Additionally, the couple must produce evidence to establish that the marriage is real, such as photos, statements for joint accounts, and insurance policies.
If the marriage was entered within two years of getting the green card, the green card will be granted on a conditional basis. He or she will be a full permanent resident in every way – eligible to work and free to travel – but that residence is subject to termination within two years after it is granted if the marriage has terminated by divorce or annulment during that period, or the marriage turns out to be a sham.